Focus on Risks off the Job to Strengthen Safety Programs, Expert Says
One expert believes that the activities of daily life may be contributing to injuries such as musculoskeletal disorders, and employers may end up paying the price in the long run.
"As an occupational therapist, we would see that many employees would be hurting more on Monday mornings than they were by the end of the workweek on Fridays," said Naomi Abrams, owner of Worksite Health & Safety Consultants. "We already know that we are dealing with a very unhealthy population in general. We need to combine wellness, safety and ergonomics programs to ensure that these ?weekend warriors' are coming to the workplace healthy."
Abrams said that even though employees are provided with information and training on how to perform a proper lift on the job, it doesn't necessarily mean that they will use these principals at home.
"We have a tendency to do what is most convenient and what is easiest when we are performing activities in our daily lives," she said. "So when we go to pick up a child, a grocery bag or a purse, we often don't associate it with the way we have been taught on the job. What I try to do with an ergonomics program is relate it back to what the employee is doing throughout the day, not just at work. We need to reprogram the way employees think, so that they can protect themselves throughout the whole day."
Be practical with training.
To help employees become more aware of their actions outside of work, Abrams recommended employers:
- Include daily tasks in their training programs. "I start with the basics," she said. "For example, a lifting program may only show an employee how to properly lift a 25-pound box or some other type of object that is required in his job duties. However, if that employee only learns how to lift that one box, he isn't going to make the connection and likely won't use those principles when lifting other objects."
For her training, Abrams has employees practice with different shaped objects and boxes, such as garbage bags or dolls weighted like a small child.
"When you mix it up and make them practice, it will force them to think through the process before they make the lift and make adjustments," she said.
If you are discussing the importance of proper footwear on the job, ask employees what type of shoes they purchase for home use. For example, if the person enjoys jogging, make the connection about the important of buying good running shoes.
"It is all part of the shoe program," Abrams said. "You are making employees take ownership of what makes a good shoe. You are creating a program where each component is brought back into employees' daily lives."
- Focus on home computer use. "According to the latest statistics, people are going home and spending two to four hours a night on a computer or gaming device," Abrams said. "When I teach employees about proper postures and selecting the right chair at the office, I want them to understand why they are sitting that way, so that they will think about it when they are in their homes."
When providing training on office safety, Abrams will have employees sit in different chairs -- including dining room and home office furniture -- to show them how they should feel and why they should sit a certain way.
"I want them to start thinking that when I get up from my computer at home, I shouldn't be hurting either," she said. "This just helps them drive home the association between their home and work lives. The home office user is not likely going to go out and buy expensive equipment and they may simply be working off the kitchen table. But I want them to understand ergonomics principles and if they do decide to buy a new desk or chair, they will be making a smarter purchase."
- Incorporate wellness and ergonomics programs. "What I have been seeing the most is that wellness programs are run as wellness programs and ergonomics programs are run as ergonomics programs," Abrams said. "However, they are both linked."
According to previous research by Duke University, having a body mass index in the overweight or obese range increases the risk of traumatic workplace injury. Severely obese individuals also suffer more hand, wrist and finger injuries. In addition, obese workers file twice the number of workers' comp claims, have seven times higher medical costs from those claims, and lose 13 times more days of work from work injury or work illness than non-obese workers.
"I think the next step will be to drive the wellness aspect home and help employees follow their wellness goals outside of the workplace," she said.
January 29, 2009
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